Friday, October 23, 2015

My Turn: School choice works for Croydon students via the Concord Monitor

My Turn: School choice works for Croydon students

In the 2014-2015 school year, New Hampshire taxpayers spent $17,233.48 for every student in public elementary and secondary education.

This is more than most private schools in New Hampshire charge. But it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. We could raise school spending until we are spending approximately $30,000 per student, as Washington, D.C., does. We could spend a million dollars per student, and it still won’t be enough . . . until we let children learn in their different ways. No single cage, no matter how gold-plated the bars, is the right place for all minds.
The necessity of choice is shown by this: The enemies of choice for your children send their own children to private schools.
Gov. Hassan’s children went to private school. Obama’s children go to private school. A long list of anti-choice senators, congressmen, governors and mayors have their own children in private schools.
Educators themselves support choice for their own children. In Philadelphia, 44 percent of the public-school teachers send their own children to private school at their own expense. The figures are disproportionately high for educators in other major cities.
This is because educators know about education. Education isn’t something that is done to you; it is something you do yourself. In the modern world, no one is looking for regimented drones to turn a bolt on an assembly line.
The ability to create your own projects and the persistence to finish them are the ingredients for success. Those abilities can be developed in many different ways: online education, immersive language courses, travel, art, music, robotics. All modern educational roads lead to individual journeys conducted at individual speeds. The idea that most children should be condemned to rote learning of one national curriculum, taught at one tedious speed, doesn’t belong in the 21st century.
So the obvious question is: shouldn’t public-school families have access to the best schools for their children, especially when it would cost less than our current failing system? Authors from Milton Friedman to Elizabeth Warren have asked this question for decades.
To the parents and school board of Croydon, there seemed to be a simple win-win answer. In 2012 they voted to provide access to whatever school best fit their children. Parents in Croydon have had choices for the last two school years.
Most Croydon parents this year chose public middle and high school in nearby Newport. A few chose to send five children to a private Montessori school. The cost is $8,200 per Montessori student. This is less than half the average cost of a New Hampshire public education. But the value to the children and the parents is immeasurable. Access to alternative teaching methods can mean the difference between success and failure, between a lifelong love of learning or the permanent dulling of a creative mind.
The response of the New Hampshire Education Department to the success of the Croydon program has been fear and hostility. Education Commissioner Virginia Barry had Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards send the town a cease-and-desist letter. The state has actually demanded that children be pulled out of their schools in the middle of their school year!
Croydon has naturally refused to disrupt the lives of their children. The town isn’t going without a fight, either. They geared up to take on the state’s legal threats with a crowdfunding site. Croydon’s lawyer is former state Supreme Court Justice Charles Douglas.
All these legal fireworks make little sense, even apart from their destructive effect on education. The larger and richer towns in New Hampshire have been sending their children to private schools for decades. Pinkerton Academy in Derry is a prominent example.
New Hampshire has a long tradition of flexibility in education.
We have had interstate school districts since the early 1960s. Orford is part of Rivendell, serving towns in Vermont and New Hampshire. If we can cooperate with Eriador, why is it so hard to cooperate with a Montessori school in our own state? Is our public education funding actually focused on serving each individual child, or is it just a jobs program for bureaucrats?
Is launching a huge legal battle to drag five happy children out of their chosen school the best use of our education tax money?
(Bill Walker is a member of the Sullivan County Republican Committee.)

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